Mar 10 2011

poverty: the stress of a downward spiral [day 287]

My rent payment is $286.  My utilities are $190 this month.  I don’t own a phone, I don’t have a job and I have a baby to take care of.  My name is Iris Isaacson… but only in this temporary make-believe world.  This world I’m speaking of is a poverty simulation, a game to teach people what it’s like to live in poverty.

I participated in this event last night.  At first, I thought it seemed like a lot of work and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there.  In the middle of it, I was thinking, “…what a chaotic game…”, but also realizing much of it was like real life.  At the end of it, I was worn out.  I couldn’t pay my bills, the ones I did pay were late, I had to pawn my jewelry, sold my camera, and after all the hardships and paying everything late, I got evicted anyway.  Here’s a description of the simulation.

The Poverty Simulation is a simulation experience developed by the Missouri Association for Community Action. During the simulation, participants pretend to be members of a low-income community attempting to survive four 15-minute weeks of poverty. The simulation relies on role playing techniques and extensive props to help participants understand the day to day challenges faced by families living in poverty.  Continue reading


Feb 19 2011

dust, downsizing, donations and discards [day 269]

The Boyscouts are collecting food items in my neighborhood today to donate to our local food pantry, Frisco Family Services.  I want to help, but I just cleaned out my pantry a couple of weeks ago and drastically changed my shopping habits to not have too much extra food in the house.  I realized that I actually accomplished this when I had a friends kids over and I had to cook for 5 people.  Most of the things I had to cook would not feed 5 people.  As I was going through my pantry this morning, pulling out some things to donate, it hit me.

A flood of memories absorbed my thoughts as I reflected back to a few specific times when I was taught a lesson, yet I didn’t fully learn it until this morning.  My first big flashback was Hurricane Andrew.  I worked in Miami, and although my home in Ft. Lauderdale wasn’t hit, I knew many people that were homeless after the storm.  (It gave me a new appreciation for my one-way 62 mile commute to work)  My workplace was demolished.  The large retail company I worked for placed me in charge of coordinating relief efforts for their employees, which was approximately 150 families.  Other stores from all over Florida donated stuff, the company had it all sent to us in a semi truck.  As we opened it in anticipation of receiving some things that were desperately needed, that excitement turned into sadness as we saw the contents of the neatly stacked boxes from inside the truck.  It was filled with clothing discards, boxes stuffed with unorganized clothing chaos that looked as though it had been loaded into the boxes with a dump truck.  There was very little food or toiletries, the things that were really needed.

Next, were my thoughts of working in the FFS food pantry.  I enjoyed this time, and I learned a lot.  Although many people gave some great food items, at least once or twice a day we received the bags of very expired “I-finally-cleaned-out-my-pantry” food.  I saw food cans that had so much dust on them, we had to wipe it off to see the date stamp.  I worked there in 2010 and I saw a bag of food where most had expired in 1994.  These donations fill absolutely no need at the food pantry.  They cannot give out expired food.  When it gets close, or is only right after the expiration, they give it away on the free shelf, that requires no voucher, and is not applied toward their allotted amount.  I was afraid to ask what happens to the really old food like that, as I’m sure they have to throw it in the trash, but I just didn’t want to hear that answer.  Some things are better left unsaid.

My last thought was how many times I might have donated expired food, feeling good that I’ve helped people in need, yet was basically making life difficult for the volunteers at the food pantry and never helping anyone.  I was helping with good intentions, as I think we all do, but I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons.  Helping people is not an opportunity to get rid of my expired, unwanted food or to get rid of clothing that’s hideously out of style.  Helping should be an opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life, filling a need they have at one of the lowest periods in their life, in many cases.  Yes, others can be blessed by us donating some things we don’t need or want any longer, however the thought process should be that of, “What if I was on the receiving end?  Would I like this or want this?  Would I need this?”  As my friend Amy just said, “Sometimes your trash can also be another person’s trash.”

I filled a bag this morning in a completely different way.  It has food that I like and bought for me and my family to eat.  It’s not expired, nor is it stuff I don’t like.  My minset is this, if I’ve been blessed enough that I can feed my family with no problem, I should pay it forward.  I can easily replace this food.  Every so often we have, and will do more often, shopped specifically for food and toiletries to donate.  I’ve done this in the past to teach my kids about helping people in need, and just how important it is to do it for the right reasons, so how did I miss all the lessons?  My bag of food for the Boyscouts is not a big one, but all of the items are current and mostly things I just shopped for last week.  Geez, how many other lessons have I chosen to ignore?  Maybe I should keep one, dusty, expired can of some sort of gross food so I don’t forget.


Feb 12 2011

ditch your high maintenance vacation [day 262]

My kids and I decided to make a purchase a couple of years ago from craigslist.  It was a bright red Sebring convertible that we fondly called the “vacation”.  We couldn’t take a vacation that year, so this was our substitute for it.  It wasn’t uncommon to hear, “Mom!  Are we taking the vacation?”  And my reply was always something like, “Is it raining?  If not, of course we are.”

Let me start by saying this was not a well-planned purchase.  We had the vacation for about a year and a half, and during that time, we got a lot of use out of it.  It was a sad day when we had to end our vacation, but all three of us knew it was the right thing to do.  We had so much fun in our vacation!  Although it didn’t initially cost a lot, the maintenance, repairs and insurance just made the vacation too expensive.  The previous owner carefully hid many of the mechanical issues, and I, being in love with the thought of having a convertible, didn’t do my due diligence on this item.

This was our second car, as I would never consider parting with my 15 year old Infiniti.  Actually, I had 5 or 6 people that were ready, cash in hand, to buy my Infiniti, but I will own that car to its death.  I will get 300,000 miles out of it… or more.

I’ve been downsizing everything lately.  My housewares, my wardrobe, pretty much everything I own.  I never realized how much stress is associated with stuff.  Embracing the chaos has a whole new meaning for me.  I can embrace the chaos by managing the chaos.  Less stuff = more time, more money and more peace.  I lost about $1,000 when I sold the vacation, as the A/C compressor went out right before I went to sell it.  Not having the vacation and all of it’s associated costs, monetary and otherwise, gave me some peace worth more than what I lost.  We have some great memories from our vacation and we’ll always have those to cherish.

Where is your vacation?  Is it time to end it?

[side note:  I got rid of the vacation before I started the challenge.  I realized I will never have a need for two cars.]


Dec 2 2010

holiday trash-tweet tips from Excessable Christmas [flashback]

These are some fun, funny, odd and disturbing holiday tweets from last year, published in my book Excessable Christmas.  The book is still available for sale on Blurb.  Book details:

ISBN: yeah, not so much.  Self published and I’m not famous… yet.

Price: blurb.com $26.95 + shipping.  From me, $26.00 and I’ll pay for the shipping. **All book proceeds go to Casa Hogar Elim**

Softcover: 120 full color pages (like I would ever do black and white)

Language: English, I think.

Book Dimensions: Square, I like squares, 7″ x 7″

Tweet Tips


SUPPORT SMALL BIZ: purchase gifts at local discount & hole-in-the-wall stores #shopsmart http://wp.me/p7CAn-3b

look 4 ‘symmetrical hazy plastic people nativity scene with flying peanuts’ in ur area. #sillyyardart #fun http://wp.me/p7CAn-3b

appreciate retail workers, be nice to them, retail sucks during the holidays #benice #putawayanitemoffthefloor

use fb for ur christmas card nxt yr. it’s the card that gives all yr long! #facebookrocks #holidaysmadebyhallmark

there’s no $ in reindeer games. dasher & donner r unemployed. #reindeerjobs #recession http://badecono.me

i hope santa delivers basic necessities to those in need. #besanta #volunteer #helppeopleinneed #ursanta

pause in ur busyness and make a phone call 2 someone u haven’t talked to in a while. #justcall #uhaverolloverminutes

stop & talk with an impoverished person. buy them lunch & learn their story. meet tom: http://wp.me/p7CAn-3K #listen

his sign said he was broke and hungry. aren’t we all? matt 22:37-40http://wp.me/p7CAn-3K #homeless #impoverished

the most important christmas icon of all is jesus, and I don’t mean the plastic one. @embracechaos   Continue reading


Nov 27 2010

BLACK FRIDAY: the video [day 185]

Any other day of the year, no retailer would allow you to walk around their store with a camera around your neck, they would stop you and make you put it away.  On black friday, that’s not the case.  With the busyness and chaos of the thousands of shoppers, extremely long lines and merchandise everywhere, nobody stopped me.  Here’s the black friday 2010 video to the tune of AC/DC’s Back in Black.

A few black friday observations:

  • It’s controlled chaos. The retailers are creating it and they’re prepared for it.
  • There’s a size relationship. The bigger the person, the bigger the packages.  Oh, how some psycho therapist needs to analyze this.
  • People like to get a deal. I’m not sure if they really want or need this stuff, but there seems to be an accomplishment once they’ve gotten a deal.  If they researched a possible purchase during the year, they could probably find a similar savings.  Is it really a deal if it’s cheap and not needed?
  • Loss leaders. There are some deals that can’t be found throughout the year, but these loss leaders are only available to the first 3-5 people according to the ads.  Not a bad deal, but I would do the cost analysis, time and effort versus cost savings.
  • Warranties. Many of the big ticket loss leaders have very limited warranties.  Before buying, you better make sure it works before you put it under the tree.  Many items have 15 days warranties.  They might as well just skip that altogether.
  • 2 types of men. The ones that like electronics with a willingness to get up early and fight for it and the “my wife made me do this and I better get sex tonight” male drag-a-longs.  I might start a line of t-shirts before next year.
  • Sporting event. I’m pretty sure most women see this as some sort of sporting event.  It’s a race for the best deals and to get all the shopping done at one time.  Most of them are getting lots of practice time during the year, so it should be a good game.

There’s much more, but that’s the big stuff.  Now, what to get my kids for Christmas without going shopping?


Nov 15 2010

could you move out of your house in 6 hours? [day 172]

My initial answer to that question would be no, but not anymore, after seeing what happened to my friend yesterday.  I’m sure this question had never crossed her mind, nor did she ever think she would have to move in a matter of hours.  I got the 911 text message early.  Her house had flooded and she needed help moving things out.

I headed over, not having any idea what to expect other than some water on the floor.  And just for the record, why do these things happen only at night while you’re sleeping?  Just about every story I’ve heard like this is someone waking up to a disaster.  Is this what Santa does on the off season to help employ the elf plumbers or do evil demons travel through the water pipes at night?  I don’t know, but I find it interesting.    Continue reading


Jul 27 2010

dumpster diving in my recycling bin [day 61]

I’m always yapping to people about my blog and the challenge, but most people will not remember the website name or think about visiting it.  I would like to eventually turn this into a resource of ideas, from easy to radical, on making life changes to become ‘greener’ and conserve our resources.

That little problem of getting my blog URL’s out there got me thinking.  I need a free way, and a way that fits into my challenge of creating business cards (although I hate calling them that) to hand out.  We can call them personal cards.  :)  I went diving in my recycling container and pulled out some cardboard pieces.  For this batch of cards I used a cereal box, some junk mail and an Ikea curtain packaging insert.  I know what you’re thinking!  I did not shop at Ikea, that was in my extremely messy garage.  Subject for another day.  😉

I cut the cardboard to biz-sized cards, printed my info on paper pulled out of the recycling bin at work and printed these.  I doubt the ink is recycled, but some of the packing of it is.  I printed these at work on a laser copier, as I don’t have a printer at home.  I tore all of the paper by hand and used a tiny amount of non-toxic glue.  There are environmentally friendly glues out there, but I’m using what I have left, as I can’t buy any with the challenge.

Bingo!  Cards.  Here’s a digital close up.


Jan 10 2010

excessable christmas

Excessable Christmas is a recent self-published book from blogging the 25 days of Christmas on iembracechaos.com.  This book highlights the excess in our society and the Christmas consumerism, with a quirky twist.  You can preview and or purchase this book at Blurb.  All proceeds will go to Casa Hogar Elim orphanage in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!  :)